Page 19 of The Protege

She takes a deep breath. “You don’t know this, but in those last months I started feeling differently about some of the things you would say and do. The way you would correct me. The way you would praise me. The feelings you gave me made me a better player, a happy person. I want to feel that way again.”

What way, Isabeau? I still don’t know what you mean. The old self-loathing rises up, that I shouldn’t be hoping for what I think she’s asking for, but I let it fall away. She’s twenty-one now. She can ask me for whatever she likes.

She turns her green eyes up to mine and they’re filled with pain. “I’ve been so unhappy without you, Laszlo. I rarely enjoy playing anymore and I can’t face auditions and performances because I’m sure that everyone will hear my unhappiness in the music. I’d rather you just know what I want and risk you getting angry with me again than long for something and never—”

“What sort of feelings?” I ask quickly. My chest feels tight. I have to know what she means. I can see how much it’s costing her to talk like this but I need her to brave for me, just a little longer. Her hands gripping her bow are white-knuckled.

“It’s sexual, Laszlo. Your voice, your words, the way you talk to me. Especially the way you are with me when you’re conducting or we’re playing together. It does something to me. I understand why you reacted the way you did that night I turned eighteen. I was… I was pushy. I sprang my feelings on you and shouldn’t have.”

I hate hearing her apologize for something that wasn’t her fault. She needn’t feel ashamed for kissing me. “Isabeau—”

She puts up a hand to stop me. “Let me just finish. I’m not asking for—for that. What I called you. What I did.”

Do you like that, daddy?

My hands clench on my biceps. If I’d known half of this three years ago things would have been very different. I still wouldn’t have touched her, but I would have known how to tell Isabeau that we needed to take things very, very slowly. That if she wanted me to keep praising and being strict with her even though she didn’t need it anymore, just because she liked it, because it was good for her playing, for her happiness, that I could do that for her. That I wanted to do that for her. That it was very easy for me to start doing those sorts of things consciously for her, to give her pleasure. Because making Isabeau happy is my keenest joy.

“I’ve been away for three years. I’m twenty-one and I’ve thought about things. Realized things. I’m asking you to make me feel safe, give me instruction, but this time knowing how it makes me feel. If the idea is horrible to you and you can’t do it I understand and I’ll leave. But if I come with you on the tour I want you to be my mentor again, I want you to be strict with me, and I want you to know why I need it.”

She takes a short breath and drops her eyes. It seems her measure of bravery has run out, but she’s said enough. I more than understand. She’s asking me to be her dom, though she doesn’t seem to know that’s what she’s asking for. Not with sex, not with physical discipline, but with words. Instructions. There’s a great deal of power in words, in expressions, in body language. She’s asking to give up a measure of power to me because it makes her feel free. Despite everything that’s happened between us, she trusts me.

Relief and gratitude pour through me. Isabeau still trusts me.

I might not remember how much I corrected her but I do remember how good it felt to praise her, to tell her she’d done well, to see her smile and turn a little pink with pleasure at my words. I remember how toward the end seeing that happen made me want to put my hands on her, touch her, taste her, and the horror that I wanted to do that to a seventeen year old girl, to Isabeau, made me never question why she reacted that way.

I gravitate toward the dominant. I enjoy it very much, not with humiliation and a lot of pain, but with control and severity. I prefer the women I take to bed to be on the submissive side and enjoy certain things, react a certain way when I say things.

The way Isabeau reacts to me.

I know exactly how to be Isabeau’s dom. I really fucking want to be Isabeau’s dom.

She shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “You’re not saying anything. I’ve made you angry again.”

“Isabeau.” Sunk in uncertainty, she doesn’t look up. More firmly, I say, “Isabeau, look at me.” She raises her eyes to mine. “Good girl. Play Beethoven’s Fifth. The opening eight measures. Then stop.”